Andy Anderson, broadcaster and congressional staffer, dies

BELLINGHAM - Andy Anderson, former KVOS television newsman and Bellingham office director for two Democratic congressmen, died Sunday, Jan. 4.

He was 77 and had been in poor health in recent months.

Anderson was born in Seattle, the son of Norwegian immigrants. He got his start in broadcasting in his hometown while still in high school, working as a stringer for KIRO radio during the 1948 election. After completing his schooling at the University of Washington, he worked in Seattle radio before coming to Bellingham for a job at KVOS in the late 1950s. At that time, KVOS was still a radio station.

Anderson and KVOS soon made the transition to television. Anderson worked 29 years at the station as news anchor, news director and public affairs director before he was laid off in 1984 by new station owners.

A former KVOS colleague, then-U.S. Rep. Al Swift, soon recruited Anderson to head his Bellingham office.

"There couldn't have been anybody better," Swift said. "Andy was always very interested in government, politics, social issues."

Swift, now a Washington, D.C. lobbyist, said he also valued Anderson for his thoroughness. He remembered how Anderson displayed that quality during his years as a broadcaster.

Some time in the late 1950s or early 1960s, when a touring speaker came to Bellingham with a message that Swift described as "Red Scare," Anderson was recruited to debate her on the campus of Western Washington University.

Swift said Anderson did diligent advance research on the facts, figures and quotes she had used in previous public appearances. When the debate began, Anderson was well-armed.

"He proceeded to bury her," Swift said. "It was delicious because she was pure demagogue."

Swift described his old friend as a passionate civil liberties advocate and lover of big-band jazz.

"His interest in civil liberties led to reading Supreme Court decisions for fun," Swift said. "Then he'd put on Count Basie and swing his mind away."

During his 10 years working for Swift, Anderson was credited with playing a key role in the development of the PACE trusted-traveler program to speed up border crossings. The PACE program became the forerunner of today's NEXUS program.

When Swift retired from congress in early 1995, Anderson departed too. Republican Jack Metcalf held the seat for three terms.

But after Rick Larsen reclaimed the 2nd District Congressional seat for the Democrats in the election of 2000, Anderson was ready to make a comeback.

"I was surprised he wanted to come out of retirement," Larsen said. "I jumped at the chance to have that experience in my office."

Larsen said Anderson was a mentor to his eager young staffers as well as to Larsen himself. Anderson was an expert at providing services to constituents, and he taught those skills to Larsen's staff during a three-year stint.

"He was very tolerant of this whole new group of young people who wanted to be involved in politics, and he enjoyed it quite a bit," Larsen said.

In recent years, Anderson was active in the City Club, a civic education organization. He served on the club's board, chaired its program committee and served as moderator.

Chuck Foster, who worked with Anderson on club affairs, said Anderson still had the contacts he needed to get high-profile people like U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and Gov. Chris Gregoire to speak at the club.

"He knew a lot of people, and he knew how the political process works," Foster said.

County Executive Pete Kremen knew Anderson well, first as a fellow broadcaster and later as someone he could call on after both Kremen and Anderson entered public service.

"He was a broadcaster's broadcaster before he entered the political realm," Kremen said. "He was the consummate pro."

As a congressional aide, Kremen said Anderson was known for his grasp of both local and national issues, and was ready to pitch in for the community.

"He always was accessible and productive in his role," Kremen said.

Reach John Stark at 715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com